Ontario NDP, Liberals call for plan on expanded fourth COVID vaccine shots

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter

Ontario’s opposition parties are calling on the provincial government to share its plan for expanded fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Interim New Democrat Leader Peter Tabuns said Monday that details on the plan are needed now that a federal immunization panel is recommending the shots and Quebec has moved ahead with fourth doses for all adults. 

“No one in Ontario wants to live through another rash of COVID-19 cases. No one wants our loved ones at risk of getting sick,” Tabuns said in a written statement. 

“It’s time for (Premier) Doug Ford to tell Ontarians what the plan is for expanding access to fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.” 

Fourth shots are currently available in Ontario for people aged 60 and older, Indigenous adults and long-term care and retirement home residents, if three months have passed since receiving a third shot. Immunocompromised people are also eligible for additional shots.

The New Democrats want easy and equitable access to fourth shots for the broader population, including through community clinics and doctors’ offices, Tabuns said.

The provincial Liberals have made a similar push for details on the government’s broader fourth-dose plan. 

Liberal John Fraser, who represents Ottawa South, wrote to the province’s chief medical officer of health last week asking Dr. Kieran Moore to “provide the rationale for Ontario’s criteria (and) restrictions for fourth doses” so that he could share it with constituents.

Fraser wrote that he’s received calls, letters and emails about the current eligibility rules around fourth doses, noting that fourth shots are available a few kilometres from his riding if people travel to Quebec. 

He also pointed to recent expert analysis on the rapid spread of the Omicron BA.5 subvariant that Ontario’s pandemic advisory group says likely already makes up half of the province’s COVID-19 cases.

“There are people who are anxious and concerned, they’d like to get a fourth dose,” he said. 

Last week the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended booster shots this fall in advance of a possible wave of COVID-19 infections.

Canada’s chief public health officer also urged people to catch up on their vaccinations with more transmissible Omicron variants circulating.

Moore told The Canadian Press last month that Ontario was looking at planning a fall round of booster doses for people most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, and potentially another booster dose for the general public – generally in line with NACI’s most recent recommendations to provinces. 

Moore also said he anticipates a new generation of vaccine that targets newer strains of COVID may be available by the fall. 

But Fraser noted that there’s concern over a summer wave of infections that may be currently unfolding with BA.5, and limited information about the disease in Ontario since the province has limited PCR testing for the virus. 

“I don’t think it’s just this fall, I think it’s right now. So if they’re restricting people under 60 from having a fourth dose, they need to explain why,” he said.

Ford said last week that the government has been discussing its fourth dose plan with Moore and promised that details on the rollout would come “in the next little while.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said Monday that the government is reviewing NACI’s recent guidance and would detail its plan for fall booster “over the coming weeks”